---May 26, Year 1505 MTA; 18:30---
, known in some circles as Sarren Brighter, was a young boy of about nine, currently wearing a bright yellow T-shirt that clashed cheerfully with a pair of dark green pants. A compact blue backpack, which looked stuffed to bursting with haphazardly-folded bundles of clothing and simple camping supplies, lay discarded to one side. The boy's short, flyaway brown hair fell almost to his ears in a hopelessly mussed mass. At the moment, like at almost any other moment, he was smiling widely with excitement.
The difference between this moment and any other was the direction of his gaze. He was kneeling on the floor of his room, his dark blue eyes fixed on a square brown paper-wrapped package sitting in front of him.
"Finally... It's here!" The boy could barely contain his excitement. "My first Pokémon!"
Having waited the interminable
duration of his dash from the mailbox outside his house to his room, Magik could bring himself to delay no longer. He tore the brown wrappings away, to reveal a single Poké Ball, shiny red and gleaming white. He snatched it up, inspecting it gleefully, and then took a wide stance, raising the Poké ball above his head with one hand.
"Sneasel... I choose you!" He repeated the time-honored words, words that were famous among wannabe Trainers all across the Pokémon world. As he did so, he flung the Poké Ball at the blue-carpeted floor of his room.
There was a flash of light. Magik was forced to cover his eyes with one hand. As soon as the boy could see again, his new Pokémon, a female Sneasel with a quirky cowlick near the back of her head, was standing in front of him. A weasel-like Pokémon with black fur, red markings on one ear, and a set of three featherlike red 'tails,' she stared up at Magik with her head cocked inquisitively, as if to say, "Well? What now?"
"Welcome!" Magik told the Sneasel exuberantly. "I'm your new Trainer. Pleased to meet you!"
The Pokémon stared at him for a few more seconds, then snorted and turned to inspect the rest of the room. She took in, with a look of bored disinterest, the tiny but well-populated bookcase to her right, the small silver computer on Magik's even smaller bedside table, and Magik's bed, which was in a state of disarray. Her eyes came to rest on the black beanbag chair next to the staircase that was the only other piece of furniture.
Still ignoring Magik completely, the Sneasel walked over to the beanbag, hopped onto it, curled up, and fell asleep.
Magik raced down the stairs, trying not to cry. He didn't answer his mother when she called cheerfully from the kitchen, asking him how he liked his new Pokémon, as he threw open the front door and left the house. Just then, the teal blue, state-of-the-art Pokégear strapped to his right forearm vibrated.
"I heard from your mother that your Pokémon arrived from the Trainers' Association! Congratulations!"
There was a pause.
"You don't sound too happy. Knowing you, I'd have expected you to be about to explode with excitement."
"All right, tell me what's wrong."
Magik was dangerously close to bursting into tears. "She doesn't like me."
"Ah. Well, you can't expect it to be friendly right away. You have to give a Pokémon time to get used to you."
The boy sniffled, unreassured. "She just looked at me like I wasn't worth her time, and then went to sleep."
His father's voice became suddenly businesslike. "These things take time, Sarren. And if I hadn't known that you're patient and persistent enough to keep at it, then I would never have written to the Trainers' Association saying you're cut out for being a Trainer. Don't prove me wrong."
It was exactly the right thing to say. Magik smiled, wiping the back of his hand across his eyes, which had become suspiciously damp.
"Thanks, Dad. I'll do my best."
"Go get 'em, Tiger," his father said, in the way he would always do just before he would grin and ruffle Magik's flyaway brown hair. The Pokégear's screen darkened as the call was ended.
With renewed confidence, Magik went back indoors and headed up the steps to his room, determined to make friends with his Pokémon no matter what. As he arrived at the top of the stairs, he looked towards where the Sneasel had been sleeping on the bean bag chair... and his mouth dropped open.
The Pokémon turned around from where she had just finished ripping a large tear in the bag's fabric, scattering small plastic 'beans' everywhere. She gave Magik a flippant look.
"Hey! Get away from that!" The boy shouted, rushing forward to pull the rip in the rapidly deflating bag closed.
His Sneasel chattered with amused glee, and as Magik whirled to give her a stern look, she dashed down the stairs. The young Trainer, his mouth still open to give the Pokémon a telling-off, stared at the stairwell for a moment before dashing to the center of the room and snatching up the Sneasel's Poké Ball.
"Come back here!" He shouted, speeding down the stairs and out the door to where his Pokémon, heedless of his command, was fleeing, giggling, down Azalea Town's wide main road towards Route 33 and Union Cave.
Magik gave chase, quickly gaining on the Sneasel. The Pokémon looked back, a bit surprised that he was keeping up, and sped up, still chattering with laughter at Magik's desperate calls to "Come back!!"
Just then, as the two dashed past a pair of Apricorn trees, both of which seemed to have been picked bare by passing Trainers, a new contestant joined the impromptu race. A blue Pokémon with black feet and black markings on his face and chest loped by, going at a steady but extremely quick pace. The Pokédex built in to Magik's Pokégear informed him:
"Riolu, the Emanation Pokémon. It can crest three mountains and cross two canyons in a single night. It can sense the emotions of others in the form of auras."
Magik's Sneasel looked askance at the smaller Pokémon as he passed alongside her. Sneasel sped up to match the Riolu's speed, but the Emanation Pokémon didn't seem to care about competition: He simply continued, indifferently heading towards whatever goal he was aiming for. That goal was apparently in the mountains to the east, because the Riolu didn't so much as slow down as he entered the foothills where the ground began to rise into a series of hillocks and mountainous crags started appearing amongst dwindling patches of grass. Sneasel, starting to look a bit tired but unwilling to admit defeat, sped up even more and drew ahead of the wild Riolu as the dirt road turned rocky and the ground's slope became steadily more severe.
Magik, far behind, on his last legs and unable to run any more, slowed to a walk, panting. His Pokémon, still racing the Riolu, disappeared over the crest of a foothill as he looked on helplessly. The sun was setting behind Magik, and dusk had already fallen. For a moment, he considered just giving up and returning home, but he remembered his conversation with his father.
I will be patient and persistent enough to be a good Trainer. I won't go back until I have my Pokémon.
Nearly an hour of walking later, night had fallen completely. Magik, who was walking along a rocky trail that headed more or less straight ahead, holding his Pokégear out in front of him with its Flashlight utility activated to light his path, stopped briefly. The beam of light had fallen on something a long ways ahead, something that was moving. As he drew closer, the indistinct shape coalesced into his Sneasel, who was stubbornly continuing forwards, dragging her feet with exhaustion. She ignored Magik as he came up alongside her on the steep, almost fourty-five degree, mountain path.
Magik considered simply returning the Pokémon to her Poké ball and heading home, but something stopped him. Sneasel's eyes, glowing red with night-vision, were fixed on something straight ahead, something Magik couldn't see in the darkness. Training his flashlight beam upwards and increasing the tightness of the focus, he could faintly see a mountain peak, dauntingly far ahead. Sneasel still hadn't given up on beating that Riolu, even if it was a hopeless task. To make the Pokémon stop before she had given up... Well, Magik enjoyed supporting his school friends in any competition. He wouldn't do something like that to his friends... and a Trainer's best friends were supposed to be his Pokémon.
Without a word, Magik continued to walk alongside his Sneasel. A few times, he caught the Pokémon sneaking a look at him, but he didn't respond or explain. At least half an hour later, the two reached the top of the mountain and stood on a small plateau, with the cold winds whipping Magik's bright clothing and messy hair this way and that and making Sneasel's tail rattle like a pane of glass. Looking down from the peak, shivering slightly in his T-shirt amidst the gusts of wind, Magik could see, with the use of his flashlight, a small grove of trees; mostly evergreen. A mountain creek, reflective and black in the darkness, produced a continuous quiet bubbling noise as it ran down amongst the trees, several of which seemed to be hung with ripe, juicy apricorns. The entire scene was entirely peaceful, broken only by the occasional cry from a Hoothoot roosting amongst the trees.
Magik was on the brink of taking a stand and telling his rebellious Pokémon that it was time to go back home, when an almighty ruckus of cawing flew up from the other side of the grove. Magik's flashlight illuminated a storm of flapping wings, their color impossible to tell from the diffuse flashlight beam. Sneasel began to run again, and Magik, not pausing to question whether this was a good idea, followed.
They reached the grove surprisingly quickly, and Magik realized that running downhill seemed laughably easy after the grueling trek up the mountain's other side. As the fledgling Trainer and his Pokémon drew closer to the source of the cawing noises, which had continued unabated, Magik's flashlight beam caught one of the flapping forms as it streaked by from behind them on its way to the scuffle, the light reflecting off of a crooked yellow beak and revealing red eyes that squinted against the sudden illumination. The rest of the bird was black, the dark feathers blending invisibly into the nighttime shadows.
The Pokédex application in Magik's Pokégear flickered on. "Murkrow. The Darkness Bird Pokémon. It is believed to bear misfortune, and seeing it at night is thought to be an ill omen. It lures pursuers into mountain trails and attacks when the foe is disoriented."
And Magik seemed to have stumbled into an entire flock
of them. At night, and on a mountain trail.
he thought, grinning nervously to himself, If I didn't have the worst luck of anyone in the entire world before this, I definitely do now.
Sneasel, apparently uninterested in such considerations, only sped up. Magik blinked, and skidded to a halt. "Wait! You don't even know any Ice-type moves yet!"
His Pokémon didn't stop, and without further hesitation Magik ran after Sneasel, bursting from amongst the trees into a clearing just a few seconds after his Pokémon did. In the center of the clearing was Riolu, who was dancing about in a wild effort to dodge a storm of incoming attacks while fighting off Murkrow after Murkrow that dived at him. Several of the bird Pokémon were scattered on the ground around Riolu, all retreating with an ungainly waddle since, temporarily paralyzed, they couldn't fly. As Magik watched, Riolu leapt high into the air, above a startled Murkrow that was trying to dive-bomb the spot where Riolu had been a moment before; The bird nearly ploughed into the ground, but brought itself up just in time. Before the bird could regain altitude, however, Riolu came back down, one hand striking with force disproportionate to his small size. The Murkrow's wings locked up, and it fell over, flapping spasmodically and cawing in pain and confusion.
"Force Palm attack," Magik's Pokégear MoveDex informed him helpfully, "Has a high chance of paralyzing the target."
Despite his apparent success in avoiding being mobbed so far, Riolu was quite evidently the worse for wear. There were scratches all over his body, several patches of his blue-and-black fur were missing, and for the most part the Murkrow were able to avoid his Force Palm attack: The strike, while formidable, required close proximity to the target, and Riolu was hard put to use it effectively against foes who kept out of reach in the treetops.
Magik looked on as two Murkrow dived at once. Riolu spun and thrust both arms at one of the attackers: the Murkrow met the Force Palm attack head-on, like running into a brick wall, and dropped out of the air like a stone as its wings locked. The other, however, smashed the distracted Riolu hard across the back of his head with one wing, fluttering back up into the sky as the Emanation Pokémon staggered forward, nearly falling. "Wing Attack," the MoveDex chirped, less than helpfully.
At that moment, Sneasel reached the scene of the battle. She jumped high into the air, swiping powerfully at the Murkrow that had just attacked. Knocking the surprised Flying-type Pokémon to the ground, she pinned the Murkrow by standing on its wings, and scratched the bird across the face. The Murkrow fainted from the pain.
If the groups of Murkrow flooding into the clearing from all directions hadn't noticed Sneasel and Magik before, they certainly had now. As if to make things worse, Sneasel gestured rudely at the surrounding birds, daring them to try their luck. "Taunt Attack," the MoveDex began, prompting Magik to flick his Pokégear's Mute button impatiently.
"Oh, shut up," he told it.
As Magik looked down at his Pokégear, an idea suddenly took form in his head. Without a moment's hesitation, he turned the Flashlight application as bright as it would go, and focused it to a fairly narrow beam. Then, dashing to stand next to his Sneasel, he suddenly whipped the bright light into the faces of a cluster of oncoming Murkrow.
Several of them simply fell out of the air, flapping frenziedly at the ground. A few others, partially blinded and unwilling to keep going, veered off course and returned to the trees, cawing shrilly. One ploughed into the ground at Magik's feet. Turning to cast his light at another group of attackers, Magik used his free hand to wipe sweat from his forehead. He hadn't been sure that would work, but as it turned out, a Dark-type Pokémon's night-vision was even more susceptible to light-blindness than a human's.
Two Murkrow made it to Magik before he blinded the rest of the next cluster, but Sneasel leaped into the air and blocked them from reaching the Trainer. A two-versus-one battle began as Magik trained his beam of light on another small flock of Murkrow. At the very least, Riolu was being ignored as the entire clearing full of Murkrow focused on Sneasel and Magik, enraged by the former's Taunt. The bad news was that Riolu was staggering around, apparently unable to walk straight. Magik still wasn't sure why he wanted so badly to rescue the wild Pokémon, but the way Riolu had been heading singlemindedly for something
prior to being waylaid by the murder of Murkrow made Magik feel that it was the right thing to do.
Several minutes passed as Magik fended off the Murkrow with his impromptu weapon, while Sneasel did her best to keep away the attackers that got past the beam of light, although Magik nevertheless incurred a few nasty scratches and bruises. Somewhere along the way, Magik realized, the Pokémon had come to regard him as, at the very least, a useful ally, if not yet a friend. The heartening realization filled him with elated energy, and he renewed his efforts, sweeping the beam through the trees and driving the disgruntled bird Pokémon into retreat through the trees. The flashlight was losing its effectiveness as the Murkrow became accustomed to the light, but most had already fled.
As a mob of the remaining Flying-type attackers descended from all directions, there was an ear-shattering screech. Several of the fliers dropped a foot in midair, cawing in protest, and Magik covered his ears as they rang as if with echoes of the painful sound. Sneasel, the source of the awful noise, moved with blinding speed, her very outline blurring as she raced forward and leapt into the air, taking down one of the surprised Murkrow with her Quick Attack. Magik ducked and rolled out of the way as two of the remaining five Murkrow dove at the spot where he'd just been. Meanwhile, the other three were mobbing Sneasel, who despite her speed seemed unable to keep up with the stabbing beaks and clouting wings. Magik trained his flashlight on the commotion, but the birds were already accustomed to the light and didn't do more than squint.
Just then, a blur of bluish-black fury streaked through the scuffle, taking two of the Murkrow with it. Magik blinked and jumped slightly as his Pokégear, which he assumed had been muted, piped up with, "Reversal Attack. Deals more damage when the user is injured." One of the Murkrow must have accidentally flicked the volume back on when it swiped at Magik.
The two Murkrow Riolu had tackled were unconscious before they knew what had hit them. Sneasel quickly leapt on the remaining conscious Murkrow and held it down, ignoring its plaintive caws of misery. Riolu limped over to the bird, and stared down at it angrily. "Riooo. Rio, Rio!"
The unfortunate Murkrow cawed rebelliously. Sneasel responded by putting pressure warningly on the middle of one fragile wing bone, eliciting a sudden silence. Finally, looking defeated, the Darkness Bird Pokémon realized it had no way out of its predicament. It reached down with its beak and plucked a small object from amongst the feathers on its left wing. Riolu took the item, inspected it carefully... then staggered and collapsed, unconscious. Sneasel stepped off the Murkrow's wings, and the bird Pokémon took to the air with an ungainly flutter, heading for the safety of the dark trees.
Magik, meanwhile, knelt next to Riolu. The Pokémon was still holding on tightly to the item he had taken from the Murkrow. The object seemed to be some sort of scarf or sash, dyed a deep, resonant blue with black tips that matched Riolu's coloring.
The Pokémon's condition didn't seem to be critical, but Magik guessed that Riolu had already travelled a fair distance, chasing his flying quarry with the intent, apparently, to retrieve something of value. It was no wonder that the determined Pokémon had passed out from exhaustion after finally getting what he had come for. Sleep was probably the best remedy, though the Pokémon's scratches would need treating eventually.
As Magik straightened, his stomach growled. A moment later, Sneasel's belly echoed the sentiment. Magik looked around briefly until he located a nearby Apricorn tree, its branches hung with ripe, juicy blue Apricorns. The Trainer picked one, and bit into it, savoring the fresh, cleansing flavor of the juice, but Sneasel didn't appear enticed. Instead, she headed over to another Apricorn tree and leapt into the branches, plucking a red fruit and biting into it with relish. Magik, a bit confused, suddenly remembered hearing that Pokémon not only had likes and dislikes, but that their natures seemed to have something to do with their preferences. Much like humans, Magik supposed. Taking one of the red Apricorns off the tree, he tried a bite and spit it out almost immediately. It was unbearably spicy. Sneasel chattered out a laugh at the look on Magik's face, and took another bite of her own Apricorn.
A few minutes later, still a bit the worse for wear but less hungry than before, Magik and Sneasel set out, with the unconscious Riolu being carried piggy-back style by the young Trainer. They crossed the mountains as the sky began to brighten, and limped into Azalea town nursing sore feet as dawn broke, the sun's rays giving them a blinding welcome home.
Magik got a slightly less radiant welcome from his mother, who, as she told him vocally, twisting the hem of her floral-printed dress, "was worried SICK!
I thought you'd left on your journey without even remembering to bring your backpack, without even saying goodbye!
I'll have you know I'm very disappointed in you, young man. Don't you ever
scare me like that again! Now sit down and have something to eat!!"
Riolu, in the meantime, had been placed in the care of the nurse at the Pokémon Center, where the injured Pokémon was expected to make a full recovery within a day. Magik, exhausted, spent most of that day sleeping. Sneasel, similarly tired, returned to her Poké ball for a well-deserved rest.
---May 27, Year 1505 MTA; 16:00---
It was midafternoon when Magik finally got up and checked his PC for mail; just one, from Dad, who had heard the whole story from Mom and who, instead of being annoyed, simply wanted to hear the details. Magik sent off a short reply promising to tell his father everything over the Pokégear later. Then he went downstairs, picking up his blue, stuffed-full backpack as he went and letting Sneasel out of her Poké ball. The black-furred Pokémon, well rested and energetic once more, quickly got tired of Magik's slow, still-half-asleep pace, and abandoned him on the front steps of his house. She dashed excitably towards the Pokémon Center and in the door, leaving Magik to catch up, yawning and dragging his feet.
Once he reached the Pokémon Center, Magik made his way through the sliding glass doors and through the brightly colored red-and-white lobby, arriving at the entrance to the infirmary where Riolu was being cared for. The nurse, who was wearing the classic apron, red-cross-bearing hat, and cheery smile of the ubiquitous Joy family
, appeared from a room in the back, carrying a basket full of Potions. She smiled at Magik, and informed him, "Your Pokémon will be as good as new soon. He's recovered very quickly, and he's regained enough energy for us to use Potions to cure his wounds."
"That's good, but... he's not my Pokémon."
"Then you're a good Samaritan." The nurse gave him a kind smile, and Magik blushed with embarrassment. He nevertheless followed her into the main section of the infirmary, where Riolu was lying asleep in one of the smallest of the various Pokémon-sized beds, still quite scratched-up but looking better. He still clutched the blue-and-black sash tightly, apparently refusing to let go.
"That's a Focus Sash," the nurse told Magik as she took a Potion bottle from her basket and sprayed it on Riolu. "It's a rare item, and I don't think I've seen it in that colour before."
"Where'd he get it, then?"
The Potion took effect, and the scratches covering Riolu's body began to fade away as if they'd never been there. "Who knows?" Said the nurse, shrugging. "Perhaps he has a Trainer already, or it may be that it's an item he got from another Pokémon."
Magik frowned. "Well, I don't think he has a Trainer. Or if he does, I don't think much of the kind of person who'd send his Pokémon on that long a run chasing a thieving Murkrow."
The nurse stared at Magik for a moment, an amused look on her face. "You know, Magik, sometimes you don't sound like a nine-year-old."
"Wait a minute, you know my name?"
"Most people around here recognize you, Magik." She said, laughing slightly. "Azalea is a small town, only a few hundred people, so nearly everyone knows each other. You just don't notice them much."
"You get watched in particular. Everyone's always said you'll turn out to be a fine Trainer."
Magik's face turned bright red at the praise, but he looked troubled. "I'm sorry... I've never been good with names. I don't even know yours, except that your last name's a hundred percent sure to be Joy."
"Celia. Celia Joy."
"Well, thanks, Miss Celia."
"Nurse Joy will do just fine. Run along now, Magik. Your Mom is waving at you from across the street."
Sure enough, through the large window Magik's mother could be seen on the other side of Azalea's main road, near the Charcoal burner's house, waving for her son to come out of the Pokémon Center. "I'd better go see what she wants," the boy excused himself, leaving Sneasel to hang around in the infirmary with Nurse Joy and the sleeping Riolu.
"Sarren!" His mother crossed the street as Magik left the Pokémon Center, hurrying a little. "Did you hear? The news arrived just a moment ago!"
Magik blinked in confusion, then shrugged. "I just woke up and came straight here. There was nothing extra in my mail. What's going on?"
"The Pokéthlon is touring! They're visiting each major town in all of Johto, and inviting Trainers from each town to compete!"
The Pokéthlon. Everyone in Johto knew what the Pokéthlon was. It was famous, and what's more, it was open to anyone who had Pokémon. Visitors flocked to Goldenrod City each year during the days preceding the summer and winter solstices, to spectate the huge tournaments that were hosted on those days. The rest of the year saw a steady stream of visitors heading from Violet Town and Goldenrod City to the National Park, to watch and take part in the lower-key competitions that ran almost continuously.
Every young Trainer, even if he wasn't very interested in the Pokéthlon for its own sake, saw the competition as a test. Pokémon that preferred not to battle sometimes excelled at such contests, and others that were powerhouses in combat were put to a grueling test of their lesser-used abilities. The Pokéthlon events were a place to test one's Pokémon outside of battle, where a Pokémon could either show its best attributes or struggle to improve on its weaker areas. Pokémon and Trainers alike enjoyed proving themselves in the Pokéthlon.
Magik was no exception. If the Pokéthlon was coming here, every Trainer for miles around would flock to Azalea, hoping to meet the new talent as well as try their luck against more experienced Trainers. There was no better way to see how he measured up as a Trainer, and Magik grinned widely at the prospect of meeting other new Trainers... And more importantly, hearing them talk about the places they came from.
"That's great!" He exclaimed enthusiastically.
"I thought you'd like that," his mother said, belatedly trying to hide the fact that she was just as excited as he was.
The news had come at very short notice: The Pokéthlon's tour was starting in Azalea, and had been kept a secret until very recently. Less than an hour later, Magik stood with Sneasel in front of the Pokémon Center and watched the procession roll into town. A series of tents were quickly raised all around the entrance to Ilex forest, while tall hurdles were set up along the main road through Azalea town. The team of Machoke placing the hurdles were barely out of the way when the Pokéthlon's mascots arrived.
A group of Rapidash, their manes and tails streaming wide banners of fire, raced out of Ilex Forest and took the hurdles one after another at a dead run, finishing up near the Slowpoke Well, breathing heavily. Moments later, the first caravans rolled out from the Forest, giving off the unmistakable atmosphere of a travelling circus. Food stalls were quickly erected amongst the homes lining the main road, and peddlers began to shout the quality of their wares-- Apricorn Juice and Pokéblocks, Soothe Bells and Choice Scarves-- for all the world to hear. Within moments, the somewhat stunned villagers had flocked to the stalls, to see what the newest products from the big city included. Magik caught a brief glimpse of the 'latest and greatest Pokégear!' ... But it wasn't the model he had strapped to his arm. Magik supposed that, since his Pokégear was still a prototype, it wasn't in stores yet. There were definitely benefits to having a Dad who worked at Silph Co., Magik thought to himself with a smile.
Shortly after the stalls arrived, the first Trainers began to trickle in. They were dressed in everything from hikers' wear and the associated giant backpacks, to t-shirts and shorts (Magik winced), to cool red-and-white getups that almost screamed,
"I AM A POKÉMON TRAINER." Magik, almost bursting with excitement, watched them approach from the trees in all directions, joining the steady stream of non-trainer visitors who were coming from Ilex Forest and Route 33.
A sudden movement at his left made Magik jump. Riolu, leaping off of the Pokémon Center's steps, landed next to Sneasel. The Pokémon had apparently awoken and left his place in the infirmary to come and see what all the commotion was about. Riolu stared around at the visitors and trainers, and at the Pokéthlon events just starting. Magik's Sneasel turned to regard Riolu briefly, then seemed to perk up.
"Snease," she said challengingly.
The Pokémon's meaning was clear. She wanted a rematch, under Pokéthlon rules, to prove that she
was the fastest. Riolu blinked, then nodded with a shrug.
Magik looked on, a bit bemused... But the matter seemed to be settled. The two Pokémon turned expectantly to Magik, apparently waiting for the go-ahead. The young trainer blinked, then smiled, surprised and pleased that the two Pokémon would want his permission.
"That's fine with me. Are you okay to be sticking around here, though, Riolu? Have you got anywhere to be? Won't your parents be worried about you?"
Riolu seemed to deflate for a moment, looking sad, then shook his head 'no.' Seeing Magik's and Sneasel's confused looks, Riolu hesitated for a brief second. Then he closed his eyes and concentrated.
An odd kind of waviness, like heat haze, seemed to fill the air around Riolu as he struggled to put his immature control of Aura to a new use. Suddenly, a series of pictures began to appear in Magik's and Sneasel's minds.
Shakily at first, but then more steady as Riolu began to get the hang of his new talent, Magik and Sneasel saw a mental photo swim into view: Two smiling Lucario, apparently Riolu's parents, stood with their arms wrapped comfortably around each other's waists, framed by a backdrop of pristine maple forest, the disctinctively shaped leaves just beginning to turn yellow with the onset of autumn.
Next, Riolu sent them a less pleasant image: They saw a Trainer with sunken black eyes, hair of a dirty red colour, and a sarcastic grin. The man was smoking a cigarette and was surrounded by large, menacing-looking Pokémon. Magik didn't recognize any of the Pokémon, but he didn't doubt that they were all fully evolved, and from the tough looks on their faces, ruthlessly powerful.
Following this, a series of snapshots arrived in quick succession.
A series of pictures of the Trainer capturing the male Lucario, and then ordering one of his Pokémon-- a massive blue-and-tan crocodilian monster with large red spikes running down its back-- to knock out Riolu's mother with a devastating blast of pressurized water. Throughout all this, Riolu, helpless, hid amongst the bushes.
Another set of photos; These ones showed the Trainer carelessly throwing his cigarette aside, a flame appearing, and the fire quickly spreading in the dry underbrush.
The snapshots, one after another, began to take on the feeling of a jerky video, showing Riolu trying to put out the flames, then-- failing that-- attempting to drag his mother away from the growing forest fire.
Riolu having to abandon his unconscious parent to save his own life, and fleeing with only her sash as a keepsake.
Nighttime-- Riolu asleep, exhausted and covered in soot by his near scrape with death.
A familiar, beady-eyed Murkrow descending from the trees to investigate, seeing Riolu's mother's scarf, and absconding with it.
Days and nights of constant travel, Riolu chasing the distant sensation of the Murkrow's aura: Through an unfamiliar forest whose trees were like nothing he'd seen before in his short life; past a long stretch of ruins, deserted and eerily silent; across an inhospitable plain where the native Pokémon gave him hostile looks; following the banks of a river that reflected the sun painfully into his eyes...
The indistinct locations blended together in Riolu's mind, becoming a blur of exhausted, continuous motion, where to stop would mean to lose the Murkrow's trail and fail in his quest to regain the only thing that had any meaning any more.
The slide-show ended abruptly, the blur clearing suddenly into an image of Magik and Sneasel standing back-to-back, wielding claws and flashlight against an all-obscuring chaos of flapping black Murkrow wings.
Magik opened his eyes, and saw that Riolu had begun to cry partway through the mental narrative. The small Pokémon wiped briefly at his eyes, and then shook his head impatiently. He didn't give Magik or Sneasel time to say anything, instead heading over to one of the large dome-shaped circuslike tents where the Pokéthlon events were being held.
As luck would have it, the chosen tent, a colorful affair that was embellished with spotlights and neon signs even in broad daylight, was where competitions on the Speed Course were in progress. Riolu and Sneasel walked through one of the small entryways that preceded the main tent and stopped at the front desk. The attendant, a young woman wearing thin-rimmed glasses that contrasted amusingly with her sporty black-and-red two-piece Pokéthlon uniform, smiled at the two Pokémon.
"Oh, aren't you two cute!
" She exclaimed. Riolu squirmed, and Sneasel chattered annoyedly at the still-smiling woman. "Okay, okay, I get it. You're not cute, Miss Sneasel."
"Mph." Sneasel didn't like being called 'Miss Sneasel,' either.
"Lighten up, Sneeze. She's only being friendly." Magik joked.
Sneasel turned and stared at him, aghast. Magik raised his hands in defeat.
"Okay, okay, I won't call you Sneeze. Just joking."
Meanwhile the young woman, who was now grinning widely, had been filling out a form of some kind. "Here. I'll need a footprint from both Pokémon that will be entering, and the signature of the Trainer."
"Err, Riolu isn't exactly my Pokémon."
"Pokémon borrowed from other Trainers count."
"Err... He's wild."
"Oh." The young lady thought for a moment, adjusting her glasses and proceeding to stare pensively at the back of the form; apparently reading a list of rules. "It says here that wild Pokémon aren't allowed to enter."
"Rio." Riolu hopped up on to the counter to stand next to the attendant and looked at the paper. The Pokémon read for a short while, then hesitantly pointed at something.
"Oh, I see. Hmm, you're right, that could
work... Don't know why I didn't see it myself..."
"What is it?" Magik asked. To his annoyance, he couldn't quite see the paper, since the tall counter came up to just above his shoulder level. He so
needed a growth spurt.
"You've got a smart one here." The young lady told Magik, referring to Riolu. "He's pointing out that, according to a loophole in the rules, if he makes a particular bet with you, he can take part. His end of the bet is that if your Sneasel wins, he'll join your party. We just have to formally acknowledge the wager and decide what your
end of the bargain is."
Magik looked enthused. "That's great! Err... Well, my Dad is in Silph Co., so if Sneasel loses, I'll get Riolu something or other state-of-the-art to use in his travels."
Sneasel snorted, as if the very idea of her losing
were absurd. She had apparently chosen to forget that she had been left far behind last time she had raced Riolu... though to be fair, that had been a test of endurance more than speed.
"All right, then! That should take care of the paperwork!" The enthusiastic attendant said as soon as both Pokémon and Magik had placed the required marks on the page. "Go on in, and have fun!"
Magik walked into the tent, and barely managed to resist the urge to stop, gaping at the immense interior. The tent-dome was bigger than it had seemed from the outside, and almost a quarter of the space around the outer edge was taken up by bleachers filled with cheering crowds. By city standards, perhaps, the place may not have been very big, but it was bigger than any building Magik had ever been in.
In the center of all the bleachers were three fields, each one home to a different course. The announcer, a man in a white t-shirt and long white jogging pants who wielded a loudspeaker with an almost dangerous level of enthusiasm, quickly called Magik and two other newcomers wandering in from different tent entrances. "Over here, Contestants, over here! I will now explain the special rules that are in place for the following events!"
The man looked around at the audience, as if to be sure that they were listening. "By request, this match is slightly different. Each Trainer's Pokémon will compete against the other Pokémon of the same Trainer, along with those of other Trainers. All right, would the Contestants please step forward! One at a time, lads, one at a time!"
As each Trainer, along with each of their participating Pokémon, was introduced to the roaring crowd, one of the other two boys began to shake uncontrollably with stage fright. Magik, completely unaffected-- in fact, ignoring the crowd-- looked closely at the field where the first course, the Hurdle Dash, would take place. The field was a reddish, oval-shaped race track interspersed with hurdles that the contestant Pokémon would need to jump while trying not to lose speed.
Sneasel and Riolu took their places in adjacent lanes of the race track. At the referee's whistle, both took off. Sneasel was clearly the faster, if only by a small bit, and quickly drew ahead. She reached the first hurdle and vaulted over it with little difficulty, a feat matched by Riolu as, a moment later, he reached the equivalent hurdle in his own track. A few jumps later, the Pokémon had run full circle, and Sneasel was hailed as the winner of the first event. Riolu came in third, with another Trainer's elated Doduo beating him by a hairsbreadth.
"And, for the next course... The RELAY RUN! Though in this case, given that the Pokémon are not teamed up as usual, it won't be a relay but a test of endurance!"
Magik's palm found his forehead with an audible smack.
Unsurprisingly, Sneasel did not win this event, running out of steam after a mere two laps of the second field's uneven, rubble-strewn circle. Riolu, on the other hand, kept going long after all the other contestant Pokémon had dropped out of the race. He continued, alone, to finish a total of six laps before retiring to wild applause from the audience.
Sneasel, still regaining her breath, shot Riolu a reluctant but honest look of respect as he loped up to join her at the start of the third and final course.
"This event is the Pennant Capture! Each Pokémon will enter the field and try to collect as many Pennants as possible, returning them to its own basket before time runs out!"
The field had a floor of sand, and was a chaotic maze of crooked beach umbrellas and large rocks. It would require careful placement of feet to navigate at any speed. The Pennants, which could be seen jutting from the sand all over the field, were long red flags that looked light but unwieldy, indicating that a Pokémon would be unable to carry too many before returning to their basket.
The referee's whistle sounded, and Sneasel took off, a bit ahead of the rest of the Pokémon. She moved forward extremely quickly, navigating the rock-strewn sand and beach umbrellas with aplomb, and snatched the closest six Pennants. She returned to toss them into her basket behind the starting line before heading out again. She was moving so quickly that she reached the next cluster of Pennants first, too: The other, less dextrous Pokémon were forced to slow down to pick their way among rubble. This allowed Sneasel to secure the advantage of having collected the nearest eleven Pennants to the starting line.
Riolu, on the other hand, immediately headed for the farthest part of the arena, where there was absolutely no competition. He picked up several Pennants, and then, curiously, balanced them on his shoulders. He loped off, picking up more and adding them to the bundles, which somehow didn't fall. Magik, frowning and squinting, suddenly found he could make out a shimmer in the air around the Emanation Pokémon's bundles of Pennants-- the clever Riolu was using his limited control of Aura to balance the Pennants and carry far more than any other contestant. He returned at a quick pace to the baskets, dropping off a load of almost twenty Pennants at the same time as Sneasel dropped off her latest group of six, making the top scores, as the announcer shouted for the crow's benefit, "Heracross, fifteen! Riolu, nineteen! Sneasel, twenty-one!"
Another minute remained, and Riolu loped off to the farthest part of the arena once more. Sneasel was dashing off again when she heard Magik shouting something.
"Pace yourself, Sneasel! Speed isn't as important in this event after the first part! Don't tire yourself out!"
Sneasel seemed to consider this, then, despite herself, she slowed down. Reaching the nearest Pennants, now a fair distance away from the baskets, she picked up as many as she could carry, and returned to drop the load of nine Pennants in the basket. Beginning to get the hang of conserving energy, Sneasel headed out for more, shooting a grin of thanks at Magik.
The competition continued, and reached its last twenty seconds. Riolu began to return, carrying another large load of Pennants, as Sneasel dropped off another batch, her score now totaling thirty-six. The announcer shouted, "Fifteen seconds! And Riolu has dropped off-- count them-- TWENTY-ONE PENNANTS,
for a total of fourty! And now, the count-down... Ten! ...Nine!"
Few Pennants remained on the field, the last ones being those at the far end that Riolu hadn't had time to pick up. The rest of the Trainers' Pokémon were returning to put their last few Pennants in their baskets as the event ended. Sneasel, however, was running back out, heading for the remaining Pennants. There was no way she was going to just throw in the towel. Magik crossed his fingers anxiously, willing her on.
"...Seven! ...Six! ...Five!" Sneasel, reaching the other end of the arena, snatched up pennants-- one, two, three, four--
"...Four! ...Three!" The Pokémon grabbed a fifth Pennant and raced for the starting line.
"...Two!" Sneasel put on a burst of speed, using the last of the energy she had saved from earlier.
"...One!" Sneasel dived across the starting line, slamming the bundle of Pennants into the basket.
Half a second later, there was a loud buzzer and the crowd went wild, preventing anyone from hearing what the announcer was shouting into his loudspeaker. It must have been something along the lines of, "We have our winner: Sneasel!" because the man was motioning wildly for Sneasel to ascend the three-stepped podium and stand in the first-place position. The dark-furred Pokémon, looking exhausted but elated, took her place to thunderous applause. Riolu was placed a cheerful second, and third place was taken by the Doduo that had beaten Riolu in the first event.
As the applause died down enough for the spectators-- and Magik-- to hear the announcer, the man began speaking again. "Thank you for watching this round, and we look forward to seeing these promising young Pokéthletes grace our Pokéthlon Dome at the National Park of Johto! First prize, for a limited time, is this Razor Claw!
" The applause rose again as the man presented Magik with his prize, which was wrapped in a plastic Poké-ball-shaped capsule to prevent Trainers from cutting themselves on it.
As the clapping slowly died down, the announcer, taking a moment to read Magik's somewhat whimsical nickname off of a sheet of paper he was holding, suddenly turned, faced Magik from a good distance away, and asked, through his loudspeaker, "Well, Trainer Magik? That's Magik with a K, folks," he added for the benefit of the audience, "How do you feel about your Pokémon having won this event? Have you any advice for prospective Pokéthletes? What kind of training did you give your Pokémon?" The man held out a microphone that Magik was sure
he hadn't had in his hand a moment before.
Magik went over and took the microphone, then, noticing for the first time just how many people were watching him with rapt attention, turned a startling shade of red. "I... Well..." Giving himself a moment to calm down, Magik decided to answer the questions in the order they'd been asked.
"I'm... absolutely, one hundred percent excited, that's how I feel! I've never been in a Pokéthlon before, so I didn't know what to expect, but Sneasel and Riolu did wonderfully. My Pokémon are great, absolutely fantastic, but of course I already knew that..." Feeling that he was starting to babble, Magik switched to the next question.
"Well... as to advice... and training... The truth is, I didn't train them at all, except for a single night-long run into the mountains on Route 33 over that way," Magik gestured to the east-- his sense of direction was good, even in a tent-- "And until just now, Riolu wasn't exactly my
Pokémon. You see," he hastened to explain, not wanting to get the nice front desk attendant in trouble, "The deal was that if he lost to Sneasel, he would join my team. So this win means a lot to me." Magik hesitated, something occurring to him.
"Uhh... There's one more thing I wanted to do."
The man took the microphone from Magik and said into it, "Go ahead, Magik."
Magik, holding the Razor Claw in its round plastic packaging, went over to where Sneasel was still standing on the victors' dais. He didn't have the microphone any more, so the audience couldn't hear him, but Sneasel could. And that was all that mattered.
"My Dad told me that this will help you evolve. Do you want it?"
Sneasel considered for a moment, then nodded. Magik opened the container and carefully handed the item to his Pokémon.
There was a burst of light, and Magik covered his eyes, backing away a few steps. The light showed through his eyelids for several seconds, then slowly faded away. When he opened his eyes, Sneasel had changed. She was now a Weavile, her claws longer and even more wicked-looking. A collarlike sheaf of red neck armor had grown, matching her featherlike tail and ears. Unlike many of her species, she didn't seem to have a hat-like protrusion of armor on her head, instead simply growing spikier black fur. She still had that quirky little cowlick in the fur near the back of her head.
Weavile pointed one formidable-looking clawed hand at the audience, voicing a shrill sound like a victory cry.
The crowd, which had remained silent during Magik's walk to the dais and during the evolution, went wild once more. The white-clad announcer clapped Magik on the back, giving him a thumbs-up in place of words, since the boy wouldn't have been able to hear him over the roar of the spectators. The next few minutes passed in a blur, as Magik and his Pokémon were ushered into a waiting room. From there, they were led back to the tent entrance, where the attendant who'd helped him was smiling and giving him a thumbs-up, too.
"I got a friend of mine to take my post while I went to see you compete," she explained. "I couldn't miss seeing the decision of whether Riolu joined your team or not. You're Magik, right? Well, congratulations!"
"Thanks," Magik said, "What was your name, again?"
"Oh, sorry. I never introduced myself, did I? Jocelyn."
"Well, thanks a lot, Jocelyn."
At that point, Magik's mother rushed out of the Pokéthlon tent, saw him, and immediately swept him up in a tight hug. Several minutes of incessant fussing later, she finally slowed down. "Oh, Sarren! I never knew you were such a good public speaker! You never showed any sign of liking to talk in front of people... Your father will be so proud when I show him the video! Our little Pokéthlete!"
"I didn't do
anything, though." Magik's expression indicated that this really bothered him. "It was all Weavile and Riolu's win, but everyone keeps congratulating me.
It doesn't make sense, and it's not fair."
The two Pokémon in question, who had been hanging back and watching, looked at each other. Weavile grinned, as willing to accept praise as ever. Riolu shrugged-- he wasn't all that concerned with the recognition of an audience of people he didn't know.
"Well, they say that a compliment paid the Trainer is a compliment paid the Pokémon, and vice versa," Magik's mother said tactfully.
Magik smiled, his serious expression disappearing as if it had never been there. "Thanks, Mom. I never thought of it that way."
"Now, I don't believe we've been introduced." His mother regarded the two Pokémon approvingly, then turned a mock-disappointed glare on Magik. "Two Pokémon already, and I haven't even met them. Are all Trainers this negligent of their poor, doting mothers?"
"Sorry, Mom." Magik said, looking sheepish in acknowledgement of his mistake. "I haven't nicknamed them, and maybe I never will, but this is Weavile..." Weavile waved a clawed hand insouciantly at Magik's mom. "...and Riolu." The latter Pokémon bowed,
unintentionally the cutest thing Magik had ever seen.
His mother seemed to agree. "Awwwww..." She recovered quickly, though, adding, "Uhh, pleased to meet you both, of course."
The two Pokémon, Magik, and his mother left the Pokéthlon tent, heading for a cotton candy stand. "Cotton candy, my treat. Pink or blue?" Asked Magik's mother, putting an arm around her son. "Anything for my little Pokéthletes."
"Aww, Mom, that's so
---May 27, Year 1505 MTA; 22:11---
Riolu, eating his pink cotton candy with relish, smiled at Weavile.
~What's it like to be evolved?~
~Same as always,
she retorted airily, taking a bite of her own, blue mass of sugary goodness. ~I feel powerful. But that's nothing new.~
Riolu hesitated for a moment, about to say something, but then appeared to change his mind, and remained silent. The two were walking behind Magik, who was good-naturedly enduring his mother's chatter.
~Seriously, though, I don't feel any different.~
Weavile said after a moment. ~I know I'm faster, and stronger, but I'm still who I was. I think.~
~You don't seem any different,~
Riolu assured her. ~I'm glad.~
~I want you to have this.
Riolu suddenly said, turning to Weavile and holding out the blue Focus Sash.
~Are you sure?~
Weavile took the Sash, noting that its color didn't look too bad against her black fur.
~Stay safe, and keep Magik safe, all right? You both are the closest thing I have to family now.~
There really was nothing to say to that. So Weavile said nothing, but just smiled, and the two Pokémon went back to following their Trainer, a human they hadn't even known twenty-four hours ago, but who had somehow, so very quickly, become the most important thing they knew.
The Pokémon world's mysteries never fail to astound.